On friday this week I had only one performance on a rather cool and very wet wintry day in Brisbane. It was one of my duo school shows called TAIKO drums and flutes of Japan with Toshinori Sakamoto. We were in a very deep concrete amphitheatre, open to the elements, but sheltered. At the end of the show, since we didn’t have to rush off to the next show, and the kids just kept putting their hands up, we answered a lot of extremely good questions from the grade 5 to 7 students. They were interested in how the instruments are made and played, but there were also questions about the extra-musical meaning and intent of performance. Quite remarkable enquiries. It was more than the usual “Why do you play shakuhachi?”
One girl specifically asked about the intent in taiko performance.
I shared with her about how, many years ago, Tosh and I were performing in remote country schools in central Western Australia during a very long and devastating drought. We were in wheat country where they had not had a crop for years, and the cattle they kept were also dying. Towns had to buy in water by the truck load. Toshi had often spoken of the history of taiko and its connection with Shinto harvest and fertility rituals. The large village drum was traditionally taken into the middle of a rice paddy and ritually beaten in prayer to the gods for rain and a good crop. So, I suggested to Toshi, “Why don’t we perform a ‘rain prayer’ at the start of each show on this tour?” So, for a few days, we did. Toshi played a ritual-like slow piece with dramatically large gestures, with his back bared to the audience, while I joined in after a while on shakuhachi.
Three days later, sick of carrying damp drums from venue to vehicle in downpours, I jokingly suggested to Toshi in the car that we should find out how to turn the rain off! Did he know of such a piece? He laughed, and we very soon stopped playing that piece at the start of our gigs. Ever since then, for more than 10 years now, in the car to gigs in towns all over Australia, with the windscreen wipers going, we jokingly tease each other about which one of us is the rain god. Or is it the combo of our duo?
I shared this story with the kids at yesterday’s school. One boy then put his hand up and earnestly explained to Toshi that he should play the piece accurately backwards, and that would stop the downpour. Toshi laughed. The boy was deadly serious.These photos were taken the day before and several days later at different schools…